Tuesday, May 24, 2011

...With A Little Help From My Friends

Improving my writing is an ever-evolving process, and one that I’ve recently learned is much easier to do with other people’s help. I’m very protective of my writing. I don’t like showing it to people; in fact, it was a long time before I even told anyone, including my husband, that I was writing a book. So for a long time, my efforts to improve my writing were solitary endeavors. I’d read books or participate in online workshops. I finally got up the courage to attend a writer’s workshop at a local bookstore, and spent the entire time praying that I would not have to show anyone what I’d written.

When I joined RWA, I attended many of their conference workshops and found them helpful. Little by little, I realized as I spoke to fellow writers there, that we were all in the same boat. Slowly, I began to show people my writing, starting with query letters or synopses and eventually graduating to opening paragraphs or chapters.

I submitted to contests, with my heart in my throat each time I received back my packet with critiques from contest judges. The contests I chose to enter were those that offered feedback. My goal was not to win, but to get unbiased opinions on my work.  I poured over their comments, trying to determine which comments made the most sense to me. I chose agents and editors to submit to, based on listening to what they had to say at conferences and hoping that they’d send me back more than a form letter. Many of them were gracious enough to comment on my writing, and I used their comments to strengthen my writing for the future.

The best thing I ever did, though, was to find a critique partner whose judgment I trust. I put out a call for critique partners on a writer’s loop I belong to and received many interested responses. Through trial and error, that list of people whittled itself down to one. She is terrific! She’s older than I am and brings a different perspective to my writing. She’s got a keen eye for punctuation and grammar, as well as noticing repetitive words or descriptions. While I may not take all of her comments (just as she doesn’t take all of mine), I am grateful to her for making my writing stronger than it was before.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, which is one of the reasons I like it, but even I can’t do it alone.


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  2. Hi Jennifer,

    Don't know what happened to last post: garbled.

    You're wise in having one person as a critique partner. I've heard awful tales of too many opinions causing havoc with manuscripts: mixed advice, rewrites etc., and then utter frustration at having mucked-up the story completely. There's a lot to be said for gut instinct!! ;)


  3. It's a fine line between gut instinct and big ego! :)

  4. It's difficult to share writing with others before it's finished. Good for you...it sounds like you found some great support!

  5. Finally got online from here in Ireland!

    In my experience, gut instinct works for your own personal style but your CPs can draw your attention to basic errors you might not be aware of - such as repetition.

  6. It's really difficult to share your writing. I remember being in exactly the same place. The value of critique partners is unrateable to me. Online workshops and conferences helped me grow, too. Mingling with other writers also helps me stay inspired to write because sometimes you just feel like you're not making progress. But, just because you put pen to paper...you are.

  7. Thanks, Angela, that's an important point to remember!